Dubbed ‘Chennai Horror’, the case came to light right on the heels of a certain “compliment” made by a filmmaker. Mysskin, at the audio launch of director Ram’s film Peranbu starring Mammootty, praised the actor’s body of work. However, he alluded rape to a compliment. “Had I been a girl, I would’ve raped him,” he says, without a flinch, and his “joke” being met with applause.
When did rape become a joke? When did the whole agony and torture of being sexually violated get reduced to humour or even a form of admiration?
His completely tone deaf “joke” points to a troubling picture – Kollywood still has miles to go when it comes to understanding sexual violence and consent. When someone as informed as Mysskin, a so-called member of the Tamil cinema intelligentsia, could make light of rape, then imagine those who still think that a woman’s honour and character lies between her legs.
Picture this: While growing up in the 90s, one is bound to have come across films where the nubile heroine, whose voice is as soft as butter and beauty as fresh as a daisy, gets stalked by the hero, often a burly brute who feels only he is worthy of her love. The thrill is in the chase, he realises, and more often than not, they fall in love. Somewhere down the line, there’s a pattern that comes into play – the heroine is child-like and needs guidance, where the hero steps in to dictate to her what she should do or shouldn’t do. And when a villain gets involved, the idea of honour, purity, and chastity is thrown in. When a villain wants to take revenge on a hero, he rapes the woman in the hero’s life. With this “blemish” on his name, the hero banishes the woman. Who suffers at the end? The woman, who faces physical, verbal, and mental violence and is still forced to uphold everything all in the name of “culture” and “honour”.
Another trope that often finds it way in Indian cinema includes the death of the woman who gets raped. Some lose the will to live, some are killed for bringing “dishonour”, or some are simply married off to the rapist. A film as recent as Hrithik Roshan’s Kaabil subscribed to a similar regressive idea, where his wife (played by Yami Gautam), couldn’t bear the thought of her husband living with HER rape and thus, kills herself. Similarly, Rani Mukerjee’s first film, Raja Ki Aayegi Baarat, had her character marry the hero, the man who rapes her. The rape becomes a catalyst for a love story that should have been called out, and yet, somewhere down the line, films continue to be made that indulge in these tropes.
When films such as these continue to be made and thrived, when women on screen are still chastised if they utter an abuse, smoke or drink, then go figure why rape isn’t even acknowledged as a serious offence, or looked at as an activity of tarnishing an image as opposed to violence against another human being.
Simply try to Google ‘rape in Tamil cinema’ and you end up with a series of YouTube videos with titles such as “Tamil Heroin Hottest Rape Scene //Tamil Movie Guru Sishyan” or “Tamil Movie Hottest Rape Scene”. The words ‘hot’ and ‘sexy’ used in the same sentence as rape goes on to point that a woman’s ‘no’ is worth nothing. Heck, a woman is worth nothing and post-rape, she’s treated like a pariah.
There are recent films such as Aruvi, Magalir Mattum, Naachiyaar, Aramm, and others that go beyond looking at women as objects proving that they are just as capable as men. But when a flippant “joke” to elicit attention is made, it proves that gender equality is still a dream that falters and fails.